Iranian director Emad Aleebrahim-Dehkordi makes his feature debut with A Tale of Shemroon, depicting life in Tehran under a merciless regime that offers little hope for its youth. And while the story is not a happy one, it does show the optimism and resilience of Iran’s younger generation as they struggle for freedom, whether individual or collective.

The story centres on two brothers: Iman (Iman Sayad Borhani) is the naughty-but-nice older sibling. We meet him sneaking home at night, keyless and having to break into his own home. Watching him teeter on the rooftop, Tehran glimmering out of focus behind him, the scene sums Iman up without him having said a word: balancing precariously, locked out and hopefully with more lives than the cat he meets on the tiles. Shemroon is the suburb where the boys live – Tehran tantalisingly close, but frustratingly out of reach.

Inside the home are his brother Payar (Payar Allahyari) and his dad. Payar is happy to stay at home ensconced in his room. Dad is a widowed invalid, his many years of opium use finally catching up with him. Dehkordi depicts the easy camaraderie between the two siblings whilst quickly establishing their chalk and cheese characters. Iman is out for a good time, enjoying a party life that sees him caught up in low-level drug dealing. Payar is the goody-goody, a talented Thai boxer who cares for his dad and doesn’t share his brother’s proclivities.

When an opportunity arises – courtesy of some top-notch coke – Iman is ready to up his game and try to earn some serious money. Tehran is notorious for its hard drug use and is a topic often depicted on screen and in contemporary literature (for example, Mahsa Mohebali’s novel In Case of Emergency). Yet while the drug use here is rife and serious, Dehkordi never lets it overshadow the central storyline and there are no serious consequences for the users. For the dealers, however, it’s a different story.

The director alerts us that trouble is on the horizon when Iman hits a beautiful bird as he is speeding home from a wing-ding night out. He falls off his motorbike and the bird dies in his arms. When he informs Payar that he wants to sell the bike because it is cursed, the audience is primed for disaster.

Dehkordi also touches on the property developers razing the old neighbourhoods in order to build tower blocks. Iman’s friend Haiduk lives in a beautiful house that is set to be bulldozed. He asks: ‘Why do they like ugly so much?’ Tehran is up for grabs and the elite are happy to milk it for everything it has.

A Tale of Shemroon ReviewThis film’s not all about the boys. Hana (Masoumeh Beigi) is a neighbour who moved to Paris and is back – with a young son in tow – and she provides the love interest for Payar. As she leaves to go on a date, her mother comments: ‘You look pretty. Be careful. And don’t mention your divorce.’ This is no place for romance and no place for a woman (as recent news stories have made all too clear).

The director has made an intelligent and thought-provoking film as brave as it is touching. He is aided in this by a positively dazzling central performance from Borhani. This is reminiscent of The Fighter, with Christian Bale stealing the limelight from Mark Wahlberg. Borhani’s whip-thin charming grifter Iman overshadows Allahyari’s quieter portrayal.

The director has spoken of how this film was ten years in the making and that filming took place during lockdown. Despite the prohibitions, despite the pandemic, despite the oppression, Dehkordi has provided the chance to glimpse a generation under siege. And he shows us that however difficult the obstacles and however desperate the situation may be, this generation is strong and ready to rise.

A Tale of Shemroon
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a-tale-of-shemroon-reviewThe director has made an intelligent and thought-provoking film as brave as it is touching. He is aided in this by a positively dazzling central performance from Iman Sayad Borhani.